[From Douglas by N Mathieson in draft.1961]



Douglas, which was the principal port of the Island from mediaeval times, was also the market town of those who dwelt in the surrounding, sheadings. It does not appear to have been the home port of any large number of fishing craft, for these, particularly the herring boats, came mostly from Peel or Port St. Mary.

As a port its principal local connections, were at first with Whitehaven, and later with Liverpool. The change occurred in the; early years of the nineteenth century, when the badly found sailing packets (with their all too frequently drunken masters, and their inadequate crews) which carried the mails were replaced by steamers, to which the mail contract was transferred in 1822. The first steamers to make Douglas a regular port of call were boats on the Liverpool/Glasgow run, but the matter of the mails was settled when the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. formed in 1830,inaugerated the first direct steamer service between Douglas and the Mersey port. This company, assured of support from its Manx shareholders, and justifying that support by the employment of the best vessels and the most capable and reliable masters available, gradually - though not without severe competition at times - wore down the opposition, and by [ ] had secured the virtual monopoly which it still retains.

Passengers were at first landed and embarked by means of small boats which carried them - not without inconvenience and, at times some peril -from the steamer to steps at the end of the old Red Pier. Tides had to be taken into account, and it was not unusual for passengers embarking early on a cold, wet morning, to be called from their warm beds by the sound of a bugler in the street outside warning them that the time had come for there to embark.

Apart from its activities as a port the town also engaged in the curing of herrings, the building of ships, the brewing of ale, the tanning of hides and the making of sweets, soap, tobacco and snuff.

Herring Curing

About four hundred fishing boats at a time were frequently to be seen in the harbour, and a large proportion of the herrings they brought in were cured and exported, so that as Feltham says in sonorous prose "Rich Italy and proud Spain -became indebted to the industry of Manksmen for the means of existance for a particular period of the year". This was, in fact a true statement, for they were consigned to all the Ports on the Italian coast. and Manx vessels floated in the harbours of Venice, Leghorn, Genoa and Palermo. Their return lading was completed in Spanish and French ports from which they brought cargoes of wine and various valuable goods to London, Bristol, Liverpool and, of course Douglas whose merchants advertised for sale consigiments 'Direct from Malaga' other distant ports.

In the herring houses of which there were several, two methods of curing were used. The white herring curers employed chiefly womerl. Girls of from nine to thirteen carried the fish in baskets from the boats to the curing house, where women rubbed them thoroughly with salt and then packed them in barrels with a layer of salt between each row of fish.

Red herrings were first piled in rows, with salt between each row, and then left for some days. After this they were washed, dried and smoked (as kippers now are) for four or five weeks, and finally, when sufficiently reddened, packed into barrells for shipment. One of the main firms of curers was Messrs. Henry Holmes & Son of Liverpool, who were in business from 1799 to 1835,when their trade suffered a severe set-back owing to shipments to the West Indies declining on the emancipation of the slaves, who would no longer consume the herrings which they had previously been forced to eat.

Ship Building

The main shipbuilding yard was where Bath Place now is, and the bonded warehouse at the end of Lord Street Islands on the site of the building slip. By the 1830s,when Mr. James Aitken of Liverpool, owned it, ships of up to five hundred tons were being built. Later a Mr. John Winram became the owner, and from it in 1842 he launched the s.s."King Orry" for the I. O. S. P. Co, Other yards were those of W. Quiggin & Co. who were building ships on the Lake at the head of the harbour from 1836 to and a third was the one started by Mr. Wm. Qualtrough c.1854. Here schooners and other craft of three to four hundred tons were built, together with yachts and small boats. The little, low building in which the work was done (now the mineral-water same factory started by the firm in 1857) may still be seen at the end of the bridge just upstream from where it joins the Castletown road. These vessels were launched sideways from what is now the factory yard, and then floated under the bridge to the Tongue, where they were fitted out. Several schooners built here were sailed out to Australia for use on the coast of that then little-known continent.


Of the eighteen breweries which existed in the Island in 1793 nine were in Douglas, and by 1825 there wore at least half a dozen rnore. The principal one was the Lake (on the North Quay) which had been opened in 1779 (Browns Directory) ; the Howe (on the South quay )started in 1793; Kayll's (near the junction of Charles Street and Castle Street) which began brewing c.1800;the Union (in Duke Street) which opened sometime before 1823.and the one on Mr. Moore's estate of the Hills, which is mentioned as early as 1824. There was also one at the Nunnery Mills, and another - not much farther away - at Kewague.


The earliest tanyard to exist in Douglas - at least, the earliest of which the writer has found any record - was that of Messrs. Gower & Soper on the South Quay. In 1805 this firm, using local hides, was making Morocco and other leathers. But in 1809 they failed - possibly because of competition from Castletown, Ramsey and elsewhere in the Island. Others took their place, but the next one of any size appears to have been that of John Kewley, who started business in 1811 at a Tannery which stood between Cattle Market Street and Castle Street, near what is now Wellington Square. Within a few years this passed into the hands of a Mr. J.J.Moore, and later still of others, but its tall chimney is still (1961) to be seen above the roof-tops of Wellroad hill.


A sugar-boiling and sweet-making business was established in Strand. Street in 1856 by a Mrs Quiggin, who made the well known 'Mona Rock'. This business was in existence until May 1933. (. '

A modern example of the trade is to be found today in Market Street. Here, in one of the long row of stone buildings which edge the sharply rising on ground the summit of which the tracks of the houses in Mount Pleasant are seen against the skyline, is a small factory where under the most hygienic conditions, and with the aid of the most up-to-date electrical equipment, 'Rock' and similar confections are prepared for the delectation of those who have a sweet tooth.

Soap- boiling

This business was carried on in the area around what is now the lower end of Church Street, Hanover Street and Queen Street. Hereabouts Matthew Simpson started a soap boiling business in May 1794, while seven years later two chandlers named Cannell end May respectively were offering candles which they appear to have made themselves. It is interesting to note that an hotel named the Albion, which still stands in the lower end of Church Street and is said to have first been licensed in 1813 is referred to in old title-deeds as the Soapery.

Rope Making

Though individual ropemakers are mentioned from as early as 1793 the earliest ropewalk of which the site is mentioned is in 1811, when Chas. Downward offered for disposal 'a ropewalk adjoining the harbour, with the mill-race, water wheel and garden attached..' In 1824 there is mention of one called the Lake Ropewalk, which may well have been the same one as Mr. Downward's. By 1870 or 1830 there was one in Brunswick Road which indeed, was known for runny years as Ropewalk Road. '

Sail making.

In a seaport town such as Douglas there would almost certainly be earlier ones, but the first sailmaker of whom we find mention is a G. Redfern in 1794, though there are several more within the next few years. In this connection mention must also be made of the great sailcloth making firm of the Moores, which is referred to on page []

Tobacco making.

The low duty levied on tobacco leaf imported into the Island made the preparation of it into a form which could later be smuggled into the United Kingdom a profitable business, and in the early years of the nineteenth century there were several firms in Douglas who made - the actual word which is often used is 'twisted' - tobacco and snuff. The largest was probably W. & J. Duff.

Potatoe preserving

An unusual industry was the -preserving of Potatoes. Just above the Trafalgar Hotel - between the bottom of the Head road and the South Quay - there was, from about 1833 until 1882 the potatoe preserving works of Messrs. King & Coy. Here a type of 'crisps' were made. Large potatoes which were imported from Belgium - were cut into small cubes and dried by cold air which was driven through them by a fan. Then, after being partially roasted they were placed in large, airtight tin cases and shipped all over the world, mainly for use in naval and mercantile ships.

During the Crimean War (1854/5) they were much in demand, and large quantities were sent there, but the advent of cold storage put a stop to the demand for them and in 1882 the Company failed. A similar factory, said to have been started by Messrs Laird and Coy. near the Laike (at the west end of the harbour) appears to have had but a brief existance.

Visiting Industry

by which almost all the energies of the town are now devoted - started at the beginning of the nineteenth century (see page []) and by 1820 the Manx Advertiser was pointing, out with satisfaction that the influx of visitors had more than equalled the returns from an ordinary herring fishery, in addition to numerous other benefits by though they continued to throng to the Island, and most of them to express satisfaction with the treatment they received, it was noted that from some of them there came well-deserved complaints of the exorbitant charges they were called upon to pay for lodgings. Despite this, however, their numbers increased rapidly from year to year, though this was not at all to the liking of some of the residents particularly when a rate war between two lines of steamers in 1836; reduced fares to as low as 2/6 Cabin and 6d. Deck, and brought many passengers of an undesirable type to the town. But, allowing for seasonable variations and almost complete cessation during the two great wars, it has grown from year to year. Hotel and Boarding Houses; amusements, shops and the many other things which such an industry involve have been developed until Douglas is now known as a great holiday centre throughout the world. And though the wars stayed the flow of holiday makers the town was by no means deserted, f or it became a training centre. In the 1939/42 conflict the Head housed a Radar training school; the Loch Promenade a Naval establishment known as H.M.S."Valkyrie" and there was another one named H.M.S."St.George" in the Douglas Holiday Camp; a Royal Marine Band School was at Howstrake and an Infantry O.C.T.U. in the town while the uniforms of girls of the Royal Naval service and the Royal Corps of Signals mingled with the thousands of others which surged through the streets, Many hotels and boarding houses were requisitioned for the accommodation of Internees and Prisoners of War, and though some of these properties were much damaged by their unwilling occupants the rents received for them from the Government helped to reduce the losses caused to their unfortunate owners by the absence of their usual visitors.

In 1891 the ground adjacent to Falcon Cliff were taken over by a newly formed Company known as the Reacreation Grounds Ltd. Here were tracks for running and cycle-racing etc. while to serve as a Pavilion they purchased and erected upon it. the old wooden building which had served as the Douglas station for the I.o.M. Railway Co. These grounds however did not turn out to be a paying venture, and on being sold were built over, all that remains as a reminder of them being the small crescent of houses called Marathon Crescent which marks the curve of one of the race tracks, and the name Olympia which old residents still apply to the locality.

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